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Empowering Maasai Youth to Lead in Wildlife Conservation, Conflict Resolution, and Sustainability

Life Net Nature adaptively mentors Maasai youth working on forest and wildlife conservation in Kenya

Photo of Dusti Becker

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

How can Maasai youth protect their community's wildlife, enhance local prosperity, and reduce land conflicts? Since 2012, Life Net Nature and Maasai youth have been monitoring wildlife, developing ecotourism, and campaigning for a community-based conservancy (protected area). Some 1,200 Maasai families live in the project area, the 80,000 ha Oloirien Group Ranch (OGR) on the western edge of Kenya's biggest wildlife tourism attraction, the Masai Mara National Reserve. The Masai Mara is famed for its great wildebeest migration, lions, elephants, giraffe, zebra, cheetah, and other wildlife, and for its beautiful Maasai people. Many species of wildlife, notably giraffe and elephant, move from the Masai Mara to the ranch to use woodland and forest habitats for birthing, nursing, and raising their infants. Thus, the ranch supports the Mara's wildlife populations. Traditionally, Maasai have taken good care of the land and their livestock, and regard wildlife as "second cattle", living sustainably with them. However, human population growth in Kenya is fueling a demand for more land for agriculture and for timber and charcoal production. Oloirien families are leasing lands to farmers and selling priceless native trees for next to nothing. Elephants, giraffe, and many other wildlife are incompatible with crops, and farmers illegally eliminate them with poison arrows and spears. More than half of the 216 km2 Nyakweri forest has been destroyed. How can Maasai conservationists reduce human-wildlife conflicts and save Nyakweri forest and other habitats? Local Maasai conservationists are the only ones who can lead their community in protecting nature at Oloirien. A home-grown conservancy would reduce conflicts between people and wildlife, enhance economic opportunities for community members, and secure key resources for endangered elephants and other Mara wildlife. Solar and tourism profits, REDD+ funding, and grants could pay rents to finance a protected area.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries include young-adult Maasai with interest in wildlife conservation and nature tourism, a local Maasai community, wildlife of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, and the larger global community. Having grown up on the Siria Plateau next to the Masai Mara Reserve living with elephants, zebra, giraffe, lions, and leopards, many young Maasai on the Oloirien Group Ranch aspire to work in wildlife tourism and conservation. They need formal training and work experience in wildlife and tourism to reach their goals. Life Net Nature volunteer expeditions employ and train members of Maasai Morans Conservation and Walking Safaris (MMCWS) and top trainees can win Life Net Nature sponsored scholarships for national-level training in wildlife tourism. MMCWS and Life Net volunteers collect wildlife data to share with multiple stakeholders involved in conservation. We work to reduce wildlife-human conflicts and advocate for a community-based conservancy on Oloirien Group Ranch.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our long-term adaptive community-based approach involves local Maasai and volunteers from around the world in cross-cultural exchanges to drive wildlife conservation. Our bottom-up approach differs from similar initiatives in the area that tend to be top-down, command and control efforts with limited local buy-in and leadership. As a non-profit led by two PhD conservation biologists with combined experience exceeding 60 years, Life Net Nature has credibility and successes. We attract capable professional volunteers who bring new skill sets and insights to the local Maasai. We believe our approach will be more successful than others because we are all working towards a sustainable and visionary result, a community-directed conservancy. Our immediate goals include development of ecotourism, institution building, youth empowerment, and wildlife monitoring, and these all underpin the bigger goal: a conservancy at Oloirien Group Ranch on the Siria Plateau of Kenya.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Life Net Nature empowers people at the grassroots level to protect wildlife and their habitats while enhancing their own economic security and sustainability. http://lifenetnature.org

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

In 2011, Life Net Nature was assisting a Kenya start-up company to offer a birdwatching tour. While camped on the Siria Plateau, Ndoyop, a Maasai watchman, said hello to us (leaders), and we started to chat. We asked what some of the challenges were for his community and he said. "We have lots of well-educated young people who want to work in wildlife conservation and tourism, but most of the businesses won't hire local Maasai". We thought, hey, we can change that, and so the project began.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

On the Siria Plateau there are many conflicts over land ownership, land use and control of natural resources, and most of the unrest results from a lack of rules and frameworks made by and agreed upon by local people. Making a conservancy will bring people together to resolve conflicts as they develop rules and sanctions favoring peace and harmony between group ranches and factions within Oloirien leading to better stewardship of wildlife and natural resources. Good land use planning for a conservancy will lead to prosperity because there are a fair number of stakeholders willing to compensate land holders who participate and this will reduce financial uncertainty. Prosperity will be linked directly with sustaining resources that sustain people and wildlife. Protected forest will purify and retain water for use by people and wildlife. Elephant and giraffe nursery areas will boost tourism income within the conservancy making the community more financially sustainable.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

MMCWS and Dupoto Forest and Wildlife Association (DFWA), two community-based conservation organizations at Oloirien Group Ranch, will work with us to advance the project idea. Globally recruited volunteers will assist by participating on wildlife monitoring and professional development activities with the Maasai. Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) will be called upon to help Maasai youth conservationists identify and register Oloirien land owners and develop a management plan for a conservancy. Local tourism businesses based on the group ranch, a solar farm developer collaborating in the REDD+ carbon credit program, and the Mara Conservancy will help finance the new community-based conservancy and provide long-lasting management expertise. In past five years we assisted MMCWS in setting up an eco-campsite for adventurous tourists and trained members to lead walking safaris, monitor local wildlife, and do community-based outreach about nature conservation.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

1. Surplus of educated young adults wishing to work in wildlife tourism and conservation. 2. Indigenous Maasai knowledge about the local area and its wildlife. 3. A fascinating traditional culture that attracts attention. 4. Viable local conservation organizations and supportive stakeholders. 5. 80,000 hectares of land under community tenure. 6. Some native forest still in good condition with high conservation value. 7. .Resources that sustain endangered wildlife and attract concern.

Geographic Focus

Western Kenya, Transmara District, Siria Plateau, Oloirien Group Ranch, Maasai families

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

Implementing a community-based conservancy at Oloirien Group Ranch is feasible within a 36-month timeline. We are five years in to this, so there is a lot of social capital on site to make things happen. The young Maasai conservationists are ready to work, and so are many members of the local community, and support stakeholders. We want to start a process, with good design thinking to guide and reflect on the process. We need help, so thank you for this helpful application process.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

24 comments

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Comment
Spam
Photo of David MUYAI OTIENO
Team

Thank you for bringing such a meaningful project to the Nyakweri forest - such a rich culture, nice people, threatened rare species of animals and a beautiful land that needs to be conservation. But realizing that we can still naturally coexist among ourselves uniquely without degrading the ecosystem is such a wonderful approach.

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

David MUYAI OTIENO Appreciate this, especially knowing that you come from a small village in the beautiful outskirts of Lake Victoria, Kenya. Onwards with meaningful approaches that bring value to people and this planet.

Spam
Photo of Willoughby Eunice
Team

An interesting initiative. This will help reduce poaching and protect animals. I have heard so much about the Nyakweri forest and it sure houses rare species of animals that are threatened by extinction.

Cultivation of edible mushroom can also be promoted here as it will serve as alternative means of meat supply. This will also reduce the onslaught of animals for meat. Edible mushroom (Pluerotus Florida ,Pluerotus SajorCaju and Pluerotus Tuber-Region) has been discovered to have higher content of nutrients and protein than fish or meat.Mushroom as we know grows by natural processes and this can be incorporated into the project.

As an environmentalist, I appreciate works of conservation and sustainability done by individuals,team and projects and always look out for alternative means that can replace the entity being threatened as research has shown that getting alternative ecofriendly replacement of a threatened specie is a major solution to sustainability.

Kudos to this.

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Thanks for sharing your thoughtful reflections Willoughby Eunice ! Have you grown edible mushrooms in the forests of Nigeria?

Spam
Photo of Willoughby Eunice
Team

Yes we have been able to cultivate edible mushroom and also produce mushroom seeds(mycelium) for further cultivation.

What enhances its production is humidity and temperature. This medium is naturally provided by the forest but most cultivation are done in Palm-branch constructed houses and routine spraying with water on substrate bags done.

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

How inspiring Willoughby Eunice  , thanks for sharing more details! Look forward to passing this idea around with our team.

Spam
Photo of Willoughby Eunice
Team

You are welcome.

Spam
Photo of bikash gurung
Team

Hi Dusti Becker , its great to see an inspiring idea here in Bridge Builder Challenge. I am amazed by how this project evolve and its really motivating.
It seems what you are doing should be done by WWF or some other government organization. You deserve great respect on that regard. I was curious to know if you have reached out to WWF for this specific program or not. Besides in this 7 years of work, i am willing to know how many families how you already supported, what has been the changes in the family's life after this initiation. What has been the worst situation faced by Massai people that has disturbed their peace, degraded their prosperity? What has been the sustainability model of this initiation so far. Keep up your good work. Looking forward to learn more.

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Hi bikash gurung , Thank you for your kind comments and interest in our project. Early on, we contacted most of the big conservation groups like TNC, CI, WWF, AWLF and various government offices (county and national) dealing with wildlife and conservation in Kenya. Most listened to our idea, gave us a big thumbs up, but did not commit to work on the conservancy idea or help fund us to do so. So, we just did our thing, funding our effort with volunteer cost-share teams.

Recently WWF has shown more interest in the area and they have started to be more supportive but still no major buy-in for a conservancy, but perhaps they'll get more proactive if our idea is successful. Starting in July 2017, WWF provided funding for local rangers to help curtail the cutting of Nyakweri forest for charcoal production and to monitor for wildlife abuses (elephant poaching). It's a tad late for the latter as most of the elephant poaching has finally stopped due to changes in global demand, but great to get some rangers out there to deal with the illegal charcoal debacle/war. I did an on-the-ground walk about with the rangers and they were pretty timid and seemed minimally trained, so they need more mentoring and backup from law enforcement.

I wouldn't say we, Life Net Nature, are to a point where we are "supporting" any families, although that is the eventual goal of making a conservancy. It won't be Life Net Nature providing or managing the compensation (except possibly some seed funding for early adopters if we get this BridgeChallenge to help a bit). The sustainability model for support of families is that several international businesses that benefit from wildlife tourism and who are based on the group ranch along with international programs to mitigate climate change and green businesses wishing to support the conservancy will compensate local Maasai families for keeping their land forested and in native grasslands rather than renting out more and more land for agriculture. The envisioned conservancy will cover about 10% of the group ranch, so there will still be opportunities for agriculture locally, just not in key elephant corridors, giraffe nursery areas, Nyakweri forest, and other high-value wildlife/tourism conservation areas.

We have certainly changed opportunities for about 30 young Maasai, who have worked with us. We have provided repeated training programs to about 20 Maasai ((members of Maasai Morans Conservation and Walking Safaris (MMCWS)) and provided three scholarships to best qualified Maasai from MMCWS to attend Koiyaki Guiding School. So far, two female graduates have found employment as wildlife guides, and one young man is still finishing the 2-yr program. The walking safari program and eco-camp we helped the Maasai set up provides quite a bit of income for an extended family who rent the land for the project (the core of the conservancy to be), and also for MMCWS members and trainees who operate the camp and host walking safaris for tourists and for Life Net Nature volunteer teams.

In my opinion, the worst situation faced by Oloirien Maasai on the Siria Plateau of Kenya is the degradation of their grazing lands and the destruction of the community forest called Nyakweri. Long-term social prosperity is linked with ecosystem health, but short-term greed within and external to the community threatens sustainability and has on many occasion upset the peace. The free-for-all destruction has made social conditions more violent as tension mounts within the group ranch and also with other group ranches and external operators (including politicians) vying for profits off the same resources.

As for the sustainability model, I mentioned it a bit above - establishing mechanisms whereby global and local wealth gained non-consumptively from local wildlife and nature is redistributed to local families bearing the cost of said conservation. Local families must be compensated before they, out of desperation or opportunity, cash in on nature. We offer an alternative to destruction. Only time will tell if it is truly sustainable, but as a small non-profit we will give it our best shot.

Spam
Photo of Ellen Davis
Team

Great question and response here. Dusti Becker are you familiar with Maliasili? https://www.maliasili.org/ They might be the right size to partner with you in your projects. I think it would be worth reaching out! Keep up the good work!

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Hi Ellen with Restoring land and lives in rural communities in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ! I'm Carrie and am part of Dusti Becker 's team. Thank you for letting us know about Maliasili, as they definitely seem like a dynamic potential partner. I'm curious, have you or Plant with Purpose worked with them and if so, in what capacity?

Spam
Photo of Ellen Davis
Team

Hello Carrie- great to hear from you. One of my colleagues speaks highly of the organization, but I believe that is the extent of it. I hope having them on your radar can be a good start for you!

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Ellen Davis Great to hear that, definitely putting them on our radar! - Carrie

Spam
Photo of bikash gurung
Team

Thanks for sharing the insights. Best wishes!

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Ashley Tillman Gayanjith Premalal Dima Boulad Alex Nana-Sinkam Hello, looking for feedback/provocations from the challenge team, as we are eager to iterate!

Spam
Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Dusti Becker have you met Sydney Gray ?  You guys are serving the same region. :) Check out Maji Mamas: Women using environmentally sustainable technology to bridge Planet and Prosperity for their community. 
Christina

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

I have not met Sydney, but enjoyed looking at her project description. Thanks for telling me about Maji Mamas: Women using environmentally sustainable technology to bridge Planet and Prosperity for their community. ! The Maasai on Oloirien were also somewhat forced to become a "group ranch", and they also face water challenges, so maybe we can visit the Maji Mama program in the future and learn about making the brick water tanks. We have been buying the giant plastic tanks and storing rain at our ecotourism site.

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Dusti Becker thank you for reviewing! Where is Oloirien? I believe I have found the location, but I would like to be sure. It's in Kaijiado County?

We would love to keep connected and learn more about the community with whom you work. Our strategy for expansion targets working with Maasai women within Kaijiado County first, but we also need to make sure they are far enough apart so the businesses are not competing with each other too strenuously. The distance that it looks like Oloirien is from our operations in Enkoihieri looks optimal.

Are there any organized women's groups in Oloirien? Are these groups doing any small businesses? We're finding our ideal spot for a new community has one or two active women's groups that are already organized and working together. It's not required, but it helps a lot to identify the women most interested in becoming shareholders in one of these businesses.

I would really love to continue this conversation. One of our staff is currently in Kenya traveling back and forth between Enkoihieri and Nairobi, but he will only be in country until June 18th. Would it be better to meet in person, chat over phone, or converse via email?

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Thank you Christina Schwanke !!

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Sydney Gray , Hi Sydney, Olorien is in Transmara District, on the western edge of the Mara Triangle. The community sits atop the Siria Plateau, also called Oloololo Escarpment. Hope to cross trails with you at some point, but won't be in Kenya this summer, so can't connect with contacts you mention. I will alert Maasai partners to your work, too. Do you know of Mike Rainey who lives in Kajiado? Cheers, Dusti

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Dusti Becker it is fine. We actually will not be in Kenya this summer either (our community cofounders will be there, but my American cofounder is returning to resume fundraising next week) - so a call via American phone lines could work just fine if that's of interest (it looks like you're in Arizona?).

I would be super interested to learn about the women in your community and any organizing and work they are doing. I would also love to be put in contact with Mike Rainey. Perhaps we should move this to email? What's the best email to contact you?

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Hi Sydney Gray !
Dusti is in the field in Ecuador until June 28th, but do contact her after then at dustizuni@yahoo.com. There are some women's groups in Oloirien organized for craft sales/tourist services and religion. (did you find Oloirien? The Angama Resort is on the group ranch property www.angama.com, you can google map that) Dusti has worked with several women in the local conservation group that she helped to start up, so perhaps that would be of interest to you.

Mike Rainy is a serious "elder" American - retired friend of Dusti's who lives in Kenya, but may have some helpful insight into Kajiado Maasai as he has worked with them for many years. His contact info is - mikerainy@gmail.com.

Great to start networking with you!

Thanks,
Carrie (part of Dusti Becker 's team)

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

I did find Oloirien, and it was by finding a property and googling it - but I was a bit off in the property I found, so thank you for specifying!

And yes, this is very much of interest. This area may be a bit far from our original site to be our next expansion (it looks like the best route has us going back through Nairobi and takes about 7 hours), but I definitely want to make sure we're connected and talking in case there's a unique synergy. Location is going to matter for our expansion to ensure we can manage our supply chain effectively (for example, instead of using Nairobi and Kiserian as a centralized spot for supplies, it looks like Migori may be the best option for Oloirien). But our first priority is working with women deeply invested and engaged communities regardless of how far off the route. So it's definitely worthwhile to begin the conversation.

I will definitely be connecting with Mike. Thank you!

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Terrific, look forward to watching your project evolve! - Carrie